Native Americans Lose Government Special Status

The Termination Resolution created a “termination” policy that ended the special relationship that Native American tribes had with the U.S. government. The policy, the most disastrous legislation for American Indians since the late nineteenth century, prepared the government for “getting out of the Indian business.”

Summary of Event

On August 1, 1953, House Concurrent Resolution 108 (HCR 108) was adopted by the U.S. Congress. This resolution stated that the policy of the federal government, as understood by Congress, would be to end federal control of Native American tribes as soon as possible. HCR 108 targeted specifically all American Indians in the states of California, Florida, Iowa, New York, and Texas, as well as the members of individual tribes: the Klamath, Menominee, Flathead, and Osage tribes; the Potawatomi of Kansas and Nebraska; and the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewas. With the adoption of this resolution, these tribes and individuals in them were no longer considered to have a special relationship with the federal government and would no longer receive special considerations or exemptions based on that relationship. The tribes and individuals named in HCR 108 were expected to assume the full benefits and responsibilities of being U.S. citizens. Native Americans;special status revoked
Termination Resolution (1953)
[kw]Native Americans Lose Government Special Status (Aug. 1, 1953)
[kw]Special Status, Native Americans Lose Government (Aug. 1, 1953)
Native Americans;special status revoked
Termination Resolution (1953)
[g]North America;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
[g]United States;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
[c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
[c]Government and politics;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
[c]Social issues and reform;Aug. 1, 1953: Native Americans Lose Government Special Status[04190]
Zimmerman, William F., Jr.
Myer, Dillon S.
Emmons, Glenn L.
Collier, John
Nixon, Richard M.
[p]Nixon, Richard M.;and Native Americans[Native Americans]

The late 1940’s and the new prosperity of post-World War II America marked a turning point in Native American policy. The toleration of Indian separateness and the efforts at improving Indian lives and encouraging self-determination through legislation, including the Indian Reorganization Act Indian Reorganization Act (1934) of 1934, began to lose ground. Once again, the advocates of forced assimilation Assimilation
Native Americans;assimilation , active throughout most of U.S. history, rose to the top in national policy making.

Resentment had been growing toward the special relationship that Native American tribes had with the federal government. With national prosperity came increasing demands for land and resources. Various developers coveted tribal lands, some of which had been restored to tribes only within the previous decade. Some Native Americans wished to sell their share of tribal lands for immediate profit rather than maintain land as a base for future development. These lands were held in trust for the tribes by the federal government, however, and special permission was required before they could be sold. Those who sought to exploit and develop the natural resources of the United States saw these tax-free Indian lands as a wasted resource.

Development by the tribes was slow, as they relied upon federal assistance to undertake various projects. Some groups, such as the Klamath and Menominee, owned valuable timberlands that were managed through the federal government to provide an income for the tribe. Others, such as the Osage, controlled the rights to oil deposits on their lands. Exploitation of these resources was done cautiously under federal control, to allow the tribes a continuous source of income. Some individuals, both within and outside the tribes, thought that immediate liquidation was more attractive in some cases. On many reservations, economic opportunities were severely restricted. Returning military personnel and employees of war industries put a strain on resources that were in some cases inadequate to support existing populations. An expanding birthrate exacerbated the problem. The Relocation Service Program Relocation Service Program was implemented to ease this situation.

Relocation Native Americans;relocation policy consisted of efforts to encourage Native Americans to leave their reservations and seek employment in urban areas. Aimed initially at the Navajo population, the Relocation Service Program opened field offices in Los Angeles; Denver, Colorado; and Salt Lake City, Utah, in the late 1940’s to serve individuals and families seeking urban employment opportunities. By the late 1950’s, however, it was determined that more than half of those leaving the reservations eventually returned. Some critics argued that culture shock was to blame; others claimed that the participants were not only ill-prepared to deal with white society but also were sent to areas that did not have adequate or suitable employment opportunities.

The first overt attempt to remove federal protection from Native American groups took place in 1947. John Collier, a longtime champion of Native American rights and commissioner of Indian affairs from 1933 to 1945, had resigned amid growing unpopularity with Congress. His assistant commissioner, William F. Zimmerman, Jr., was made acting commissioner until another appointment could be made. While Zimmerman headed the Bureau of Indian Affairs Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. (BIA), he was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Committee on Civil Service Senate Committee on Civil Service and present a plan for reducing expenditures. Reluctantly, Zimmerman suggested that certain tribes were ready for the removal of federal controls and services and that other tribes could be made ready in the near future if certain steps were taken to prepare them adequately to take control of their own affairs. The Senate committee then requested that the bureau draw up a list of those tribes deemed ready for termination of federal controls.

The bureau presented a list of three groups: group one consisted of the tribes ready for self-determination; those in group two should be ready in ten years; and those in group three required an indefinite time for full relinquishment of government supervision. In his testimony, Zimmerman stated that the criteria used to determine the readiness of a tribe for termination were “the degree of acculturation; . . . economic resources and condition of the tribe; . . . the willingness of the tribe to be relieved of federal control; and . . . the willingness of the State to take over.” All tribes listed in group one were later included in HCR 108.

In 1950, Dillon S. Myer was appointed commissioner of Indian affairs. Myer’s experience included a position as director of the Japanese War Relocation Authority from 1942 to 1946. Collier accused Myer of viewing the reservations as vast concentration camps and Native Americans as prisoners. It did seem, however, that Myer was interested in “freeing” Native Americans from the reservations. He concentrated on expanding relocation efforts and also restricted Indian access to the limited credit offered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help Native American businesspeople. His goal in this was to help his charges to understand how the white business community worked. He encouraged Native Americans to take out loans at private banks and loan organizations by permitting them to mortgage tribal lands and individual allotments held in trust by the federal government. Glenn L. Emmons succeeded Myer in 1953. Emmons shared the belief that Native American unemployment could be solved through massive relocation efforts and continued this practice.

Before the termination exercised through HCR 108, Native American tribes had a special status that included federal government protection and exemption from all federal, state, and local taxes. State laws and regulations did not apply to Native Americans living within the boundaries of reservation lands, and civil and criminal law enforcement was handled by the tribes and the federal government. Health facilities and utilities were provided by the federal government, with the Public Health Service operating most reservation facilities. Under termination, Native Americans would be subject to state regulation and taxation, as were any other citizens living within a particular state. This control extended to the enforcement of civil and criminal laws. This was a dangerous situation for Native Americans, as state and local powers were often hostile to their Indian populations.

Later, Public Law 280 provided for all states to exert civil and criminal jurisdiction over tribes within their boundaries, without the consent of the tribes involved, but few states undertook what would be a costly measure. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Eisenhower, Dwight D.
[p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;Native Americans signed Public Law 280 but protested against it, urging Congress to adopt additional legislation specifying that tribes could refuse state control. Congress never did so.

Termination did not happen overnight. Several years elapsed for some tribes between the adoption of HCR 108 and the official termination of the tribes named in it, time which was supposed to be used for careful planning for the eventual end of federal supervision.


HCR 108 was the most disastrous congressional action forced upon Native Americans since the Dawes (or Allotment) Act Allotment Act (1887)
Dawes Act (1887) of 1887, with many similar results. As had happened through land allotment, Native Americans lost valuable lands and the livelihood derived from them. Most of the tribes affected by HCR 108 did not understand fully what was going to happen to them upon the conclusion of termination.

In 1954, the year the Menominee of Wisconsin were officially terminated, the lack of adequate preparation became evident. The tribe had appeared to meet all four of the BIA’s criteria for termination. The Menominee had requested more control over their own affairs, and the state of Wisconsin initially was willing to take over many of the services provided by the federal government. On paper, the Menominee appeared to be prosperous, in possession of a renewable resource, their timberlands. The assessed value of their forest, $36 million, however, could not be realized unless the forest was sold, which would destroy the Menominee economy. The tribe entered into termination believing that accepting it was the only way to receive funds that the federal government held in trust for it, funds the tribe had won in a settlement against the BIA for mismanaging the forest. Few Menominee even participated in formulating the final plan for termination.

What followed termination was a tragedy for the Menominee. The tribe was charged for the cost of planning its termination. It had received its settlement funds, but per-capita payments to tribal members had used up most of this money. The loss of tax-exempt status created a further drain on economic resources. Reservation health and education facilities did not meet Wisconsin state standards and were closed down, leaving the Menominee without access to education or health care on the reservation. It became obvious that the federal government had never provided adequate facilities for its charges. Not long after termination, a tuberculosis epidemic struck the tribe, and no health facilities were available on the reservation to help fight it. An inadequate sewage system required costly renovation when it failed to meet state standards. Individuals had to pay for their own water and electricity. The state of Wisconsin was unable to provide the services needed by the Menominee, and the tribes’ status quickly fell from fairly prosperous to desperately impoverished.

Similar experiences occurred to other tribes terminated under HCR 108 in spite of their opposition. This experience caused many Native Americans to realize that they needed to develop political techniques if they wanted to retain their rights. The National Congress of American Indians National Congress of American Indians, U.S. (NCAI), founded in 1944, was strengthened by Indian reaction to termination and became a more intertribal organization. Voting in general elections increased, and large Native American populations in some states could determine the outcome of elections. Senators and other elected officials began paying more attention to Native American needs. In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon officially pronounced termination “morally and legally unacceptable.” In 1973, the Menominee Termination Act was repealed. The rights gained by treaty in fair exchange for the original Menominee lands were restored.

Despite the recommendations of BIA personnel, including Zimmerman, who had provided the lists for termination, Congress eagerly pushed ahead in “getting out of the Indian business.” Once again, legislation had to fix what damage had been done by earlier resolution. Native Americans continued to engage federal and local governments in battles for their rights. Native Americans;special status revoked
Termination Resolution (1953)

Further Reading

  • Beck, David R. M. The Struggle for Self-Determination: History of the Menominee Indians Since 1854. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. A history of the long-time struggles between the Menominee Indians and the U.S. government. Focuses on the tribe’s fight for sovereignty and self-determination.
  • Josephy, Alvin M. Now That the Buffalo’s Gone. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984. An interesting book that contains chapters illustrating the difficulties Native Americans have faced in retaining their rights. Chapter 4, “Cornplanter, Can You Swim?” and chapter 6, “The Great Northwest Fishing War,” are of special interest. Extensive bibliography and index.
  • Nichols, Roger L., ed. The American Indian: Past and Present. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. This text consists of separate articles covering cultural and historical aspects of Native American experience. Contains chapters on the Menominee Termination Act and the experience of Native Americans in urban areas. Includes a bibliography.
  • Tyler, S. Lyman. A History of Indian Policy. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973. A worthwhile, extensive text on U.S. government policy toward Native Americans. Highly recommended for the serious student. Includes an extensive bibliography.
  • Washburn, Wilcomb E. History of Indian-White Relations. Vol. 4 in Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988. A comprehensive volume. Information is organized chronologically within chapters concerning the legal status of Native Americans, the Indian rights movement, and U.S. Indian policies, among other topics.
  • _______. The Indian in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. A history of Native American interactions with European and American settlers, with chapters on allotment and the Indian Reorganization Act. Photographs and index.

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